Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Backstrom day-to-day, and line changes galore

Posted by: Rachel Blount under Wild practice Updated: October 9, 2013 - 4:25 PM

Lots going on in Wild-world Wednesday, which is unsurprising after Tuesday's loss at Nashville dropped its record to 0-1-2. Rachel B here, filling in for Russo, who traveled this morning from the Music City,

Coach Mike Yeo said with great relief in his voice that Niklas Backstrom's injury does not appear serious, and the goalie is listed as day-to-day. Backstrom strained his right knee when Eric Nystrom barreled into him in the first period of Tuesday's game, causing Backstrom's right leg to strike the goal post. Yeo said Josh Harding will start Thursday's game against Winnipeg at Xcel Energy Center, but Backstrom might be healthy enough to dress as the backup. Backstrom will be evaluated again later Wednesday, when the team would make a decision on whether to recall Darcy Kuemper from Iowa.

That wasn't the only shuffle. Yeo tried several new line combinations in Wednesday's practice, even breaking up the top trio of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville. Pominville was moved to the second line with center Mikael Granlund and winger Dany Heatley, while Nino Niederreiter took Pominville's spot with the top group. The third line will be Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine, and the fourth features newly recalled Stephane Veilleux with Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell. Yeo said he plans to move Mitchell up the chart as situations warrant.

Jason Zucker, unimpressive in Tuesday's 3-2 loss, was sent back to Iowa on Wednesday morning. Veilleux was recalled to fill the roster spot vacated by the injured Charlie Coyle. In explaining that decision, Yeo said, "(Zucker) wasn't going to factor in on the third line, and we weren't going to play him on the fourth.''

Yeo said the line-switching was not simply a knee-jerk reaction to the winless streak. He and his assistants laid out a plan last summer to freely move players around in the lineup, because they want players to be adaptable, and the coaches want to be able to experiment with different combinations. "There's no guarantee that if we were 3-0, that we wouldn't be switching up our lines as well,'' he said.

As for the rationale behind his new combinations, Yeo said that Niederreiter has played well enough to justify moving up to the top line, while he hopes Pominville can get another line going. The top line, Yeo said, has generated "probably 90 percent'' of the Wild's scoring chances. That won't do, and he lauded Pominville's play and leadership. "If we put (Pominville) with (Granlund and Heatley), then that's a line that should have the potential to create offense for us, too,'' Yeo said.

Yeo wants the third line to bring a spark and to be hard to play against, and he believes Fontaine complements Cooke and Brodziak. He said he wanted to "give an identity'' to the fourth line; Veilleux and Mitchell provide speed on the wings.

The defensive pairings changed, too. Keith Ballard will team with Jared Spurgeon, and Matt Dumba will pair with Clayton Stoner. The Dumba-Stoner duo was very effective in a preseason game at Winnipeg. That leaves Marco Scandella as the odd man out, but Yeo wasn't critical of his play. "Marco had a good game last game,'' he said. "But in game 2, (Stoner) had a good game, and we took him out. We've got a lot of guys, and I don't want Dumba sitting out too long.''

Yeo said the details will make the difference for the Wild as it seeks its first victory, and he wants players to focus on refinements. Parise echoed that thinking.

"I think we're still playing good hockey,'' he said. "It would be one thing if we came to the rink and had no chance to win any of those games. But that's not the case. We just need to be a little sharper in different areas. We're still in a good mood; everyone is still in good spirits. We're just frustrated that we haven't won.''     

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